One of a company’s most valuable asset is its brand equity – that emotional connection that people have with an organization’s product/service. However, with the rapid influence of internet communities and the explosion of social media in particular, more challenges are being thrown at reputation managers and businesses alike. While some businesses are not oblivious of the obvious influence varied social media platforms are having on the growth or decline of their brands, it not unusual to see blogs, topics of forums, social networking sites and other forms of social media firing an attack on a brand/product/service. It is clear from a cross section of these platforms that though organizations are not ignoring the strength and leverage these communities offer, there seems to be a lack of strategy in dealing with these challenges.
Wishing them away might not be easy as global dimensions are reaching frightening proportions. Consider the case of Domino’s Pizza, whose brand reputation was dealt a serious blow when two annoyed employees uploaded a video on YouTube of themselves engaging in unhygienic practices (sneezing, nose picking into pastries during preparation) to rubbish their pastries. This video was eventually viewed by millions of customers and sales figures for its pizza nosedived. While BP was also battling the massive oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, Greenpeace orchestrated an online attack when it challenged the public to design a new BP logo to suit their “dirty business.” The competition garnered over 2,000 entries with damaging designs – the effects can never be wiped off the web.
As social media continues to become a vital part of most corporations, today’s businesses need to become more proactive at anticipating exploits and dealing with abuses that can tarnish their reputation and negatively impact their business operations. How can these be managed?
Have a clear social media strategy
Going online has gone far beyond the era of just developing a beautiful website. The evolving demand for online media marketing and social media engagement requires clear policies, guidelines and experienced staff that will involve employees in every aspect of your business operations – Human Resource, Customer Service, Branding and Marketing.
It also involves profiling your target audience before pouring resources into Facebook. Several PR tools will be useful in this regard. Don’t be busy spending money on ads if your audience is busy in traffic or with their phones.
Dealing with social media attacks require a robust crisis plan. Brand haters exist but unlike the past, a coordinated attack can easily be organized against a brand. Consider the Boycott British Airways campaign organized by the Nigerian Village Square and Respect Nigeria Coalition when officials of the UK Police forcefully ejected Ayodeji Omotade and about 136 other Nigerians from a Lagos bound flight from the UK. Thousands of online signatures were collated which later saw British Airways apologizing for its misbehavior.
When opening your brand to social media, you relinquish ownership of the brand, so before the case ever comes up you need to be sure if your agency has a community management expertise to avert or mitigate a social media crisis? Have a set of best practices been established? Think again.
Classify mud-slings and don’t fight dirty
Ok the deed is done and you have a crisis in your hands, what do you do? The next step is not to have a hurried response to your online audience. The next step is to determine the type of response necessary. It doesn’t matter the kind of crisis, one rule is critical – stay positive. Being bitter and negative about comments is the easiest way to expose your brand to bashing.
Some problems or complaints direct you to a particular challenge your customers are facing with your product/service, nicely thank them for bringing it to your notice and deal with it. If the comments are as a result of customers not understanding your methods and policies, you score a bigger point. Simply thank them and explain why you do it that way. You won’t take all suggestions, but be careful to win their loyalty and trust by being appreciative. But then some mudslings are downright dirty, they are designed to draw or bait you into an unnecessary I-am-right-get-lost fight thereby exposing you as inept and leaving your organization at the mercy of a community of angry comments and future readers of the page. Nescafe (international) will never forget this lesson when they multiplied their challenges by mishandling Facebook attacks during protests by members of Greenpeace.
Finally, in going social, always remember a Facebook page isn’t a social media strategy. Using social media engagement strategies includes identifying your brand personality, profiling your target audience and going to engage them. If your brand is hoping to leverage on social media, it should be ready to create new teams to proactively listen, learn and engage your customers in real time. Cheers